Expats & Credit Cards

May 2nd, 2011, in Featured, Travel, by

Why is it so hard for expats to get a credit card in Indonesia? And is it worth having one anyway?

To recently arrived expats, Indonesian credit cards seem an amazingly good deal compared to back home.

HSBC Restaurant DiscountAnnual fees are much lower, the benefits such as:

are much easier to obtain, and all expats’ salaries are well above the minimum threshold to qualify.

And yet, personal experience is Indonesian banks almost never approve applications for non-Indonesians, even the one where you have a savings account.

For many expats, the issue is they don’t have a relative/emergency contact that doesn’t live with them. You would think this problem is overcome after dating and marrying an Indonesian, but again personal experience is it hasn’t.

Below is a guide to the benefits and obscure requirements/problems you may encounter:

HSBC Credit Card

Air Asia HSBC Card

Good For: Discounted restaurant meals and Air Asia flights, free entry to airport executive lounges.

But the problem is: You must have a home telephone number. If you live in a new house with no home phone or prefer to use a CDMA mobile phone (e.g. Flexi, Esia) instead because it’s cheaper, too bad.

American Express Charge Card

American Express Charge Card

Good For: Buying international flights online in $US, thereby avoiding currency conversion fees.

But the problem is: After you apply, you never hear back from them. Last time, they said their computerized approval system was “masih trouble”, meaning still not working.

Garuda Citi Card

Garuda Citi Card

Good For: 5% discount on Garuda international and domestic flights, free entry to airport executive lounges, earning points more quickly on the Garuda Frequent Flyer Program.

But the problem is: Citibank cannot issue new credit cards while Bank Indonesia investigates allegations of Citibank staff stealing money from customers’ accounts and its violent debt collectors.

Lion Air BII Credit Card

Lion Air BII Credit Card

Good For: Discounted flights on Lion Air.

But the problem is: You cannot find an application form at Lion Air ticket office, BII branch or anywhere else. Possibly application forms are even rarer than those for the Lion Air Passport Club, the virtually non-existent Lion Air frequent flyer program.

Also, the low annual fee hides other fees that may not exist in your home country: a bill payment fee; stamp duty; credit card surcharges of 2-3% that are more the rule than the exception. In addition, Indonesia is still a cash-based economy; many shops and businesses still don’t accept any credit cards.

Having said that, an Indonesian credit card is almost essential when:

So the key questions are:

  1. Are Indonesian credit cards useful, a necessary evil, a waste of time or something else?
  2. Are there any expat-friendly banks that are more likely to approve non-Indonesians’ credit card applications?

Please share your experiences and opinions below.

10 Comments on “Expats & Credit Cards”

  1. Gustav says:

    It is easy to get a credit card with a bank where you have a credit balance. They just separate an amount equal to your CC credit limit.

  2. David says:

    HSBC will throw the things at you; I had a visa one, then got a telephone call asking did I want an American Express one, I clearly said ‘no’, the woman on the phone seemed annoyed about getting a ‘no’ and a few weeks later one turned up in the mail, they just sent it… so I cancelled that thing.

    Never tried with other banks though.

  3. Chris says:

    Hi Gustav and David,

    Thanks for your comments. Let’s continue the conversation.

    Gustav said:

    It is easy to get a credit card with a bank where you have a credit balance. They just separate an amount equal to your CC credit limit.

    But isn’t that just like an ATM/debit card?

    David said:

    HSBC will throw the things at you

    I’ve applied for HSBC 3 times, and after a couple of times of not hearing back from them, I eventually found out what the problem was: I didn’t have a home phone number. Until that changes (and it’s not likely to any time soon), I am unlikely to succeed with HSBC.

    I have also been similarly unsuccessful with the American Express Charge Card, despite a friend working at (AMEX’s local agent) Bank Danamon.

    Over the years, I have also been rejected by Carrefour Credit Card, Bank Mandiri, BCA and Garuda Citi Card. This is despite having accounts at Bank Mandiri and BCA for 5+ years and a Citibank card in my home country.

    What do I need to do?

  4. Gustav says:


    I guess you can see it as a debit card, but technically it is not. Charges accumulate and you have to pay the outstanding balance at the end of the month.

    You can also use them abroad where ATM/debit cards are not always accepted.

  5. David says:

    What do I need to do?

    I don’t know obviously, I don’t want to paint HSBC as being particularly cooperative either, they have some byzantine rules and the staff will take a peculiar, perverse pleasure in enforcing them or denying you something based on them, but as far as the cards go I found they were pretty easy.

  6. Mike says:

    I worked in Kuala Lumpur before, credit cards are widely used and easy to apply over there just like in Europe. When I came to work in Jakarta last year, the banks (Citi and CIMB) that issued me Platinum Visa and MasterCard in Malaysia issued me similar cards for Indonesia, with the same credit limits. But in general, reading the literature and from the experiences of colleagues and yours, the income requirement and the credit limit seem much lower here while the application process is more onerous.

  7. Jason says:

    Have been rejected so many times by international banks such as HSBC, Citibank, Standar d Chartered, CIMB that I have lost count. Even though I am able to flash them my Platinum/ Gold credit cards from HSBC/ Citbank/ CIMB Malaysia bundled with my statements to show what a good paymaster I am, I am still without an Indonesian credit card… sigh..

    As a director and owner of the company in Indonesia, I am the cheque signatory, even then, the same banks that I have corporate accounts with do not want to issue me credit cards.

    After few years of applying, I still have not given up. The credit-card sales officers are always ever so optimistic and keep telling me no problem, despite me telling them i am foreigner and have no Indonesian credit cards. At least if they reject me, I still get the free sign-up gift for my daugther…

  8. Giesetiadi says:

    I just come accross with this forum when l googled ‘credit card for expat in KL’.
    Now l can see how bank looks at us as expat.
    I am lndonesian, but lived outside lndonesia for few years.
    We just moved to Kuala Lumpur two months ago.
    And it happened to me what you guys experienced.
    Citibank rejected yg credit card application !
    When l read the rejection letter, l was very ready to jump off to complain their service.
    My salary as expat is far above their requirement.
    And l got credit cards in the last country l stayed (Qatar).
    I also knew that some friends from lndonesia also got credit card here.
    I really can’t understand why this citibank reject my application.

  9. Robert says:

    I lived in Indonesia between 2009 – 2010. Working as a teacher, I was able to get a BCA credit card (mastercard and visa) with a 12mil limit VERY easily on an 8.5mil salary. I had only been there about 6 weeks when I applied also. The school did not need to guarantee it either.

  10. Kev says:

    I applied for a card lower than the one HSBC recommended just for monthly bills and shopping if needed. They took 3 months to get back and turned me down saying I needed 50 million in my account. Ridiculous. Definitely a problem here.

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